June 22, 2024

Chinese government hackers are constantly trying to infiltrate the computer systems of U.S. water treatment facilities and energy grids in a bid to be “pre-positioned” for inducing panic, according to an alarming new speech from FBI Director Christopher Wray. And given the success of China’s Volt Typhoon program to infiltrate U.S. infrastructure since 2021, it’s not exactly a concern out of left field.

Wray claimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has devoted tremendous resources to an offensive cyber program that’s “larger than that of every other major nation combined.”

The FBI director, who made the comments during a speech at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee on Thursday, said all of this hacking was about “giving the Chinese government the ability to wait for just the right moment to deal a devastating blow.”

“The PRC has made it clear that it considers every sector that makes our society run fair game in its bid to dominate on the world stage. And that its plan is to land low blows against civilian infrastructure to try to induce panic and break America’s will to resist,” Wray said during a talk on Thursday that was livestreamed on YouTube.

Wray largely focused on the threat of China as it relates to critical infrastructure, but the FBI director was also asked about TikTok, the social media platform the U.S. is threatening to ban if ByteDance doesn’t divest.

“The Chinese government has the ability to leverage the collection of data through TikTok on millions and millions and millions of users,” Wray said on Thursday. “So think about how comfortable you are with the Chinese intelligence services, having the ability to leverage that data collection for all sorts of operations.”

Wray insists the threat is no longer just a long-term concern, but something that could become a reality by 2027, given an assessment recently released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that says China could potentially invade Taiwan before the end of this decade.

“2027 is not exactly long-term,” Wray said. “In reality, it’s not even around the corner. We’re feeling some of the effects today. In government, all across government, we’re looking at the 2024 budgets being written now as the determinants of what resources we’re going to have available to confront China in 2027.”

And that perhaps gives away the reason Wray is sounding the alarm now, whatever you think about the plausibility of the U.S. and China entering into some kind of hot war over an invasion of Taiwan. Budgets are drawn up years in advance, and it’s definitely in the interest of intel and law enforcement agencies to make people concerned about safety and security in the future.

A version of this article originally appeared on Gizmodo.

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